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Mary Gladstone - "Finding the Thread"

20th October - 17 November 2019​

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Richard Demarco has the pleasure to invite you to the exhibition:

Finding the Thread by Mary Gladstone

Please RSVP to Fernanda Zei at by 17th October 2019


Demarco Archive Exhibitions is presenting an exhibition of works by Mary Gladstone from Sunday, 20th October to Sunday, 17th November in the ground floor of the Demarco Wing at Summerhall. The exhibition will be open daily from 1pm to 6pm - closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Private View will be on Saturday, 19th October from 11am to 1pm.

“Everything that is sacred, and that wants to remain sacred, shrouds itself in mystery. Religions take refuge behind arcana: art has its own.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Stéphane Mallarmé

Although, in this exhibition, Mary Gladstone's embroidery has plenty to say, it is primarily concerned with showing or demonstration. Mary Gladstone had written and published poetry, short stories, books of non-fiction and journalism, but something within her, a little like a horse jibbing at a fence, rebelled. She wanted to pare her mode of expression to the minimum, rather than enlarge upon it, believing that what she lost in extension, she would gain in depth; she envisaged what she could do with symbol, emblem and the image.

Her cousin, Sue and her partner, Ian Hamilton Finlay, helped her to realise her aim. Sue Swan says this about Mary’s work:

"Your work is wonderful. Do not doubt it. Do not be timid about it. It's very exciting and clever and good. You are clearly an artist. The work is original, lovely, clever, sweet and fierce; all those things. Ian (Hamilton Finlay) would have been a bit furious because it is so good!!"


Mary Gladstone describes the genesis of her work thus:

'I learned a lot from Ian’s work, especially his poetry from the Sixties, when he was one of the main exponents of the international concrete poetry movement. From following the fashionable trend, during the latter part of the 20th century, of individualism and the introspective, I saw my way towards a more public, laconic, terse and aphoristic style of communication, ideal for embroidery, which Ian Hamilton Finlay encouraged me to take up. It had much to recommend it. Being inexpensive, I only needed a piece of cloth, a needle, thread and a few other tools. Needlework gave me a sense of self-containment, an activity I could take up and put down easily. I enjoy rebelling against the current fashion of frowning upon the stereotyping of sexual roles. In the old days, the needle may well have tyrannised young girls forced to stitch rows of letters, numbers and passages from the Bible, but I question its harm when today, the young are often reduced to a robotic mindlessness, staring into a laptop screen or ipad. In this show, I have stitched words from favoured poets and philosophers, like William Cowper, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel onto a variety of fabrics, including a stretchy bandage and a tea cosy. Ancient Greece and Rome recognized the poetic, rather than plain facts and beliefs, so I celebrate Penelope, wife of Odysseus, Prince of Ithaca, who left his home to fight in the Trojan War. Believing Odysseus was dead, many suitors claimed Penelope’s hand in marriage, but she made the excuse that she must finish weaving a shroud for her father-in-law before she could accept any offer. This was a trick as, by day, she wove the garment but, at dusk, she unravelled it. This exhibition is an attempt to communicate the mystery of the word, whether it is written, stitched or carved.

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Introduction by Richard Demarco to Mary Gladstone's Exhibition entitled 'Finding the Thread'



Mary Gladstone states that her exhibition is 'an attempt to communicate the mystery of the word, whether it is written, stitched, or carved'. She follows this with a quotation from the French poet Stephane Mallarmé. It states that 'everything that is sacred and that wants to remain sacred, shrouds itself in mystery. Religions take refuge behind arcana; art has its own.' This was written in 1862 and it provides food for thought with regard to dealing with an exhibition which undoubtedly is inspired by the 'concrete poetry' of Ian Hamilton Finlay and the world of Little Sparta which he and Sue Finlay together created from the farmscape of a Lanarkshire hill farm with the entirely appropriate name of 'Stonypath'.

I have known Mary Gladstone as a writer contributing insightful essays on art for Bill Williams' 'Artwork', a most welcome bi-monthly publication which consistently records and questions the nature of the art world in Scotland in relation to the United Kingdom and beyond.

I regard Little Sparta as a 'Gesamtkunstwerk' set in a rural environment far from the urban spaces which to a great extent define the world of art in Scotland. In fact, Little Sparta is a nodal point on the map of the international art world. It is arguably among the most important art works in modern times. I compare it to Brancusi's sculptural installation at Targu Jiu in Romania as well as Jim Ede's Kettle's Yard in Cambridge and Giuliano Gori's Fattoria di Celle in the Tuscan  landscape within sight of  the hills of Vinci.  Little Sparta questions the very nature of  the twentieth century art world and  is totally dependent, unlike the enclosed spaces of art museums, on the seasonal weather conditions which cause it to be open to the public for a restricted period from June to September.

Mary Gladstone has chosen to live in the poetic Celtic landscape of Galloway almost within sight of the physical reality of that part of Ireland that I associate with the Ulster counties of Antrim and Down and the birthplace of my mother in Bangor Co. Down. In her exhibition, she reveals her love of the words associated with the writings of giants of poetry and philosophy such as William Cowper, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. She has chosen, not to draw or paint these words, but to stitch them on the surface of a variety of fabrics including a bandage, a   tea cosy, a house-coat and even a World War Two silk parachute as well as a well-worn flannel pillow-case.  This provides  me with proof that she can be, like Ian Hamilton Finlay, defined as a sculptor. Mary Gladstone is undoubtedly a poet who does not trust factual information and beliefs based on rational thought, and for this reason she celebrates Penelope, the wife of  Odysseus, Prince of  Ithaca who decided to weave a shroud for her father-in-law before she could accept any offer   of marriage. She wove this garment by day but she took care to unravel it at dusk. Hippolyta is another figure in Greek mythology who provides inspiration for Mary Gladstone's extraordinary art work in the form of  a belt which she chooses to entitle 'Bring back the Belt' which evokes my memories of Ian Hamilton Finlay's masterwork at Stonypath entitled  'Bring back the Birch'.

Ian Hamilton Finlay, together with Sue Swan, reassured me that it was possible to live and work as an artist in Scotland within the rules defining the international art world. Sue Swan is convinced that Ian Hamilton Finlay would have recognised Mary Gladstone as a true exponent of 'concrete poetry'.

I feel strongly that this exhibition deserves to be toured beyond Scotland.  I am thinking of the fact that Ian Hamilton   Finlay is well represented in the world-renowned collection of the Polish Museum Sztuki in Łódź. This neon sculpture was purchased by Ryszard Stanislawski from the first solo exhibition I was honoured to present of  Ian Hamilton Finlay's work   in November 1969. Also, I should not forget that I introduced Giuliano Gori in 1983 to Stonypath and this resulted in a sculptural installation entitled 'The Virgilian Grove' by Ian Hamilton Finlay in the Tuscan landscape of Giuliano Gori's La Fattoria di Celle. I also introduced Rudi Fuchs to Stonypath and this resulted in a version of the large-scale sculptural masterpiece inspired by the words of Saint Just: 'The Order of Today is the Disorder of the Future' being installed   as an outstanding open-air feature of the Eindhoven Art Museum. I would like to think therefore that such a tour should extend beyond Scotland to Poland, Italy and the Netherlands.

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